Archive for Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Education chief: Kansas needs to double college attainment rate

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson is pictured in his office, Jan. 6, 2017.

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson is pictured in his office, Jan. 6, 2017.

March 8, 2017


— As Kansas lawmakers grapple with a Supreme Court ruling that said current funding for K-12 education in the state is inadequate, the state's top education official painted a startling picture of what it might take to become "adequate."

The state of Kansas, Education Commissioner Randy Watson told them, needs to nearly double the percentage of students who go on to earn some kind of college degree or training certificate if they are going to compete in the new, post-Great Recession economy.

Citing a report from the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute, Watson said that by 2020, 71 percent of the jobs in Kansas will require some level of post-secondary education.

But according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks post-secondary enrollment and progress nationwide, only about 65 percent of Kansas students who graduated in 2010 enrolled in college the following year. And six years after graduation, fewer than 40 percent had earned any kind of degree or training certificate.

Meanwhile, nearly a fourth of the students in the class of 2010, 23.4 percent, never enrolled in a post-secondary school within six years after graduating from high school.

"Do you see already the issue that the State Board (of Education) is wrestling with?" Watson asked. "If only 65 (percent) start, and we need 70 to 75 (percent), we already have a gap."

"So this six-year picture is a good snapshot of, 'What does K-12 need to do, what does the Kansas Legislature need to think about, and certainly what does higher education need to think about?'" Watson said.

Watson spoke to a joint meeting of the Senate Education Committee and the House K-12 Education Budget Committee, the two groups that will play a big role in writing a new school funding formula this year.

His remarks came in the wake of a Kansas Supreme Court decision that said current funding for K-12 education is inadequate and, therefore, unconstitutional.

And the standard by which the court said it will judge adequacy, the so-called Rose Capacities, boils down to whether the funding system is designed to make sure all students are ready for college or a career by the time they graduate from high school.

The Georgetown study on job requirements has been widely discussed within both the State Board of Education and the Kansas Board of Regents, which supervises higher education in Kansas.

Some lawmakers in the meeting, though, said K-12 schools should not be held solely responsible for those numbers. It is based on Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys of educational requirements for jobs posted since the end of the Great Recession around 2010, the vast majority of new jobs being created require some college education.

"In short, the U.S. economy is slowly returning to normal — albeit a new normal — characterized by an increase in the natural rate of unemployment, permanent job losses in sectors employing the less-educated, and an ever-increasing demand for better education credentials and upskilling across an array of new fields," the report stated.

It also said jobs requiring the highest levels of education, four-year degrees or higher, will be concentrated heavily in the Northeast, while jobs requiring only a high school diploma or less will be concentrated in the Deep South.

Although Watson did not talk specifically about costs, he has said that the department's budget request for the next two years is built around the State Board's new long-range "KansasCan" vision for Kansas schools, which is aimed at boosting the state's post-secondary attainment rate through more individualized programs.

That budget request seeks $841 million in new funding over the next two fiscal years.

Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, for instance, asked about the number of students who either didn't start or didn't finish a post-secondary program that were prevented from doing so because of the rising cost of higher education in Kansas.

Watson said the National Student Clearinghouse data doesn't track the reasons why students either don't go to college or drop out. But he said the percentage of students entering college the first year after high school has not changed much since 2010, as tuition rates have gone up.

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee is expected to begin crafting its version of a new funding formula in the coming days.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, just announced Wednesday that she has appointed a special committee to put together the Senate's version of a finance plan.


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